Elinor Glyn and the Invention of 'It'

in Critical Survey
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The early novels of Elinor Glyn (1864–1943) were very well received for their ‘originality, wit and high spirits’. They were written at the turn of the century when Glyn was in her early 30s in order to solve financial problems and they are acutely observed accounts of the late Victorian and Edwardian marriage market. She contrasts British high society with continental arrangements to manage wives and mistresses and in doing so tentatively begins to explore the place of sexuality within marriage or more significantly the prospect of extramarital liaisons as young brides become mature women. Biographical accounts of Glyn’s career emphasise the surprise and hurt she felt at the response from the press and society acquaintances to Three Weeks (1907) when it was published. Whereas her other novels were seen as humorous and daring, this is the novel that overstepped the mark. Three Weeks became notorious because its focus is not society manners or pre-nuptial morality, but an adulterous affair that is treated sympathetically, almost reverentially by the authoress. Even more controversially, it is an older woman who seduces a younger man, with the intention of conceiving a child. The gender relations regarding class, culture, money, initiative, status, and more specifically power are unequivocally reversed and celebrated in the expression of a mature woman’s sexual pleasure.

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